poverty


I write about prisons and prisoners a lot, so you might never know that it’s a really hard subject for me to write about, but it is. It’s not just numbers and statistics and information; it’s family. My mom is in prison, on drug charges, and would be much better off in a drug treatment program or in a psych hospital. But, like more than 1% of the adult population in the United States, she is in prison.

It’s even worse here in Texas, which leads the nation in inmate population. This is from Channel 10 in Amarillo:

Tougher state and federal sentencing is one of the main reason for the ballooning prison population. Legal experts say new laws will increase that population because punishment ranges are being extended every year. So people will get longer sentences. But some say it’s a problem that is much more deeply rooted in Texas history. For instance 1 in 9 inmates are of black males. With hispanics being a close second.

“Our system in Texas is absolutely broken that’s why all these people are coming out of prison now on DNA results. In 50 years we’ll look back and we’ll see our system incarcerated lots of innocent people. Former Texas Prison Board Chair Selden Hale said. Hale says he believes the numbers are more like 3 in one hundred blacks that are locked up and 4 and 100 hispanic.

I wonder if anyone really does want to change the current system.  Prisons are big business in the U.S. There is a private corrections industry in addition to the large number of federal, state and local jobs that revolve around guarding, feeding and monitoring prisoners. Someone suggested to me that prisons are our society’s way of NOT dealing with the poor and “stupid” among us.

In California,  

As the costs for fixing the state’s troubled corrections system rocket higher, California is headed for a dubious milestone — for the first time the state will spend more on incarcerating inmates than on educating students in its public universities.

Based on current spending trends, California’s prison budget will overtake spending on the state’s universities in five years. No other big state in the country spends close to as much on its prisons compared with universities.

And that does not take into account how many people are involved in each system. It’s even worse in other states:

Those states are (in order of spending the most proportionally on prisons in 2007): Vermont, Michigan, Oregon, Connecticut and Delaware. The state spending the least on prisons relative to higher education was Minnesota, where for every dollar spent on higher education only 17 cents was spent on corrections. The average for all states was 60 cents, nearly double the 32 cents spent 20 years earlier. Only three states saw gains in spending on higher education, relative to corrections: Alabama, Nevada and Virginia

This link allows you to

Click on a state to see how much its incarceration rate has grown, how its spending on prisons and higher education has changed, what proportion of its prisoners are drug offenders, and the racial disparity between its general and prison populations.

What does all this say about our society?  Nothing good.  Time for us to start thinking about people instead of prisoners, inmates or offenders.  Time to start thinking about helping people with drug problems instead of throwing them in jail for decades.  Time to start treating mental health problems instead of waiting until those problems lead people towards crime.  Time to start acting like a society instead of acting like prison wardens.

Advertisements

When I was 8, 9 and 10 I was a bully. I hit and kicked other kids all the time. I never threatened a teacher though. But I could have.

This little boy threatened his teacher with a plastic knife or fork. And he had to go to jail. Would that happen in other “civilized” countries? Does it happen to white kids from good neighborhoods? It shouldn’t happen to anyone!

New Project Seeks Justice for Vulnerable Children

Darius was only 9 when he was locked up. For two months, he languished in a juvenile facility — alone, frightened. He missed his 10th birthday party. He missed Thanksgiving. He missed his stepfather’s funeral.

His offense: He had threatened a teacher with a plastic utensil.

Unfortunately, Darius’s early introduction to the juvenile justice system is not that uncommon.

Across America, countless school children — particularly impoverished children of color — are being pushed out of schools and into juvenile lock-ups for minor misconduct that in an earlier era would have warranted counseling or a trip to the principal’s office rather than a court appearance.

The problem is particularly acute in the Deep South, where one in four African Americans live in poverty.

The children and teens most at risk of entering this “school-to-prison pipeline” are those who, like Darius, have emotional troubles, educational disabilities or other mental health needs.

But rather than receiving the help they need in school, these vulnerable youths are being swept into a cold, uncaring maze of lawyers, courts, judges and detention facilities, where they are groomed for a brutal life in adult prisons.

“Our juvenile prisons and jails are overflowing with children who simply don’t belong there,” said SPLC President Richard Cohen. “These are the children who desperately need a helping hand. Instead, we’re traumatizing and brutalizing them — increasing the risk that they’ll end up in adult prisons. It’s tragic for the children and bad for the rest of us, because it tears apart communities, wastes millions in taxpayer dollars and does nothing to reduce crime.”

To attack this problem, the Southern Poverty Law Center has launched a multi-faceted new initiative, called the School-to-Prison Reform Project. Based in New Orleans, the project is seeking systemic reforms through legal action, community activism and lobbying to ensure these students get the services — both in school and in the juvenile justice system — that can make the difference between incarceration and graduation.

Nationwide, almost 100,000 children and teens are in custody. Black youths are vastly over-represented in this population; they are held in custody at four times the rate of white youths, according to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Students with disabilities that would qualify them for special education services are also grossly overrepresented. Some studies suggest that as many 70 percent of children in juvenile correctional facilities have significant mental health or learning disabilities.

“These are the children left behind,” said Ron Lospennato, an SPLC lawyer who heads the new project. “They are paying a heavy price because of short-sighted policies based mainly on fear and myths. Someone must be there to catch them before they fall through the cracks.”

The pipeline begins in the classroom, where black students are disproportionately affected. Nationally, black students in public schools are suspended or expelled at nearly three times the rate of white students, according to a Chicago Tribune analysis of U.S. Department of Education data.

The state with the worst disparity is New Jersey, where black students are almost 60 times as likely as white students to be expelled for serious infractions. Many other states also had striking gaps in discipline rates. In Alabama, a state where more than a third of all public school students are African American, black students are expelled five times as often as whites.

Once a black student is pushed into the juvenile justice system, the pipeline takes another tragic turn. The proportion of black youths within the system grows at each stage — from arrest through sentencing — until this group, which represents only 16 percent of the nation’s youth population, accounts for 58 percent of the youths admitted to state adult prisons.

“The vast majority of children caught up in the juvenile justice system have not committed violent crimes and do not deserve to be sent to prison,” Lospennato said. “And what most people don’t know is that thousands of non-violent kids get locked up for months even before their cases are heard.”

Students in special education are especially at risk of being pushed into the pipeline.

“Often these students are simply acting out of frustration because they can’t keep up with the others, and they’re not getting the help they need in class,” said Jim Comstock-Galagan, founder and executive director of the Southern Disability Law Center, which has partnered with the SPLC on the School-to-Prison Reform Project.

Poverty makes the situation worse, because a family may not have the resources needed to successfully demand the special school services that can prevent an outburst of misbehavior. It also means a detained child might find her fate in the hands of an overworked and underpaid public defender who has little or no training in the field of juvenile law.

Cohen noted the importance of basing the project in New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina exposed the country’s racial and economic disparities.

“In opening the New Orleans office, we are sending a message, loud and clear, that the key to addressing these inequities is ensuring all children receive the education they deserve and are guaranteed under federal law,” Cohen said.

The project grew out of the SPLC’s legal work representing children with disabilities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

SPLC won key victories
The project has already won key victories for many school children in Mississippi and Louisiana. Settlements reached with school systems in Louisiana’s Jefferson, East Baton Rouge and Calcasieu parishes, for example, will ensure that quality special education services are provided to thousands of students. The settlements also have provisions that will enhance school experiences for all children, not just those with emotional or learning disabilities.As for Darius, the SPLC won his release from juvenile detention and helped him receive mental health treatment near his home and special education services at school. A program to help strengthen family relationships was part of the treatment.

“There are thousands of children like Darius whose lives can be saved if we reform this broken system,” Cohen said. “That’s what this project is all about.”

Editor’s note: Darius’ name has been changed to protect his identity.

 

Victoria Jaramillo, 40, holding her 3-month-old daughter, Frida, at Santa Martha Acatitla, a women’s prison in Mexico City. (Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times)

My mom is in prison and has been for more than years. I have thought a lot about what it would be like if she had never been arrested and how different my life would be if she was out and if she was still my guardian. (My life is WAY WAY better now! I wish she could be in a hospital or a drug rehab, but not here in my house.)

But until I read the article below, I never thought of what it would be like to be in prison with her. (I don’t even like going for an hour to visit.)  The kids in the article are a lot younger than I was when my mom was arrested, and the prison they’re talking about is in Mexico and not in the U.S., but still it has me thinking.

Behind prison bars, toddlers serve time with mom

By James C. Mckinley Jr. MEXICO CITY:
Beyond the high concrete walls and menacing guard towers of the Santa Martha Acatitla prison, past the barbed wire, past the iron gates, past the armed guards in black commando garb, sits a nursery school with brightly painted walls, piles of toys and a jungle gym.

Fifty-three children under the age of 6 live inside the prison with their mothers, who are serving sentences for crimes from drug dealing to kidnapping to homicide. Mothers dressed in prison blue, many with tattoos, carry babies on their hips around the exercise yard. Others lead toddlers and kindergartners by the hand, play with them in the dust or bounce them on their knees on prison benches.

On the one hand, maybe these moms learn to be better parents than my mother was, and maybe there’s less abuse when there are guards and other people around. Also, I am glad the children there have toys to play with and a nursery school. On the other hand, they don’t have any freedom. What an experience!

(more…)

This is a great game that helps teach vocabulary and also raises money for giving rice to hungry people. I’ll be ready for the SAT’s in no time!

Click here to play.

I am a statistic:

Two-point-four million American children have a mother or father in jail or prision right now.

….

The children of prisioners suffer from anxiety and attention disorders, or from post-traumatic stress. They are likely to bounce from one care-giver to another;  

Fortunately, I don’t fit the statistics in other ways:

..to have and to cause trouble in school. Often poor to begin with, they get poorer once a parent is arrested.

These children are far from blind to their parents’ failings-they live with them every day , and they have more at stake than anyone in seeing their mothers and fathers rehabilitated, and living within the law. But in one way or another, most say the same thing: things were hard. Mom got arrested. Things got worse.

In my case, things got a lot better, but mostly because of things that had nothing to do with the crimes my mom went to jail for.   The reality is that my mom’s life would be much better if she were getting psych and drug abuse treatment rather than being in prison, and we would probably worry about her a lot less.

Politically, this is the part of that article that jumped out at me, but I don’t know enough about the issue know what the solution is:

“A successful corrections system doesn’t grow”, criminologist Stephen Richards has observed. “If they were correcting anybody, they’d shrink”. As our failing prison system continues to expand its reach, more and more of our children fall under its shadow, denied the light of parental attention they need in order to grow.

I may be a statistic, but none of these statistics means that I have to turn out a certain way.  There are a lot of my mom’s footsteps I don’t plan to follow.

When I was in elementary school and my mom lost her job and our house because of using drugs and her mental illness, we were sometimes hungry.  I was 8 when we lost the house and 9 when she lost her job.  My older brother always made sure that I had enough food, but sometimes it was a struggle.  I didn’t have warm enough clothes for walking to school in the winter, and it was much more important to my mom that we LOOK good than have the right clothes for the weather.  No coat was better than one with holes.  We were never homeless but we never had a lot in those days.

Today is a whole lot better.  I have everything I need and a lot of extras.  I don’t ever have to be hungry.  I’m planning to go to TWO Thanksgiving feasts tomorrow.  But a lot of people are hungry.   The Bush economy has made the really rich even richer but it has made a lot of people very poor. People are struggling and so are the groups that help them.

Chinodeb sent me this article and I bet that it is as true in other parts of the country as it is in Arizona.

More people seeking aid; agencies struggle to help

John Rudolf/News-Herald Photos Becky Reid and her daughter Sammi, 4, are among hundreds of Havasu families in need this holiday season.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 10:33 PM MST

Arms laden with boxes and with three young children in tow, Becky Reid made her way though the parking lot back to her car, a four-door sedan that looked as if it had seen better days. Putting the boxes in the trunk, she opened them up to take a quick look inside.

“Macaroni. Yum!” said her 4-year-old daughter, Sammi.

A look of relief crossed Reid’s face as she opened the other box. “Soap, toothpaste, toilet paper. … This is great,” she said.

Reid’s family is one of hundreds of local families struggling to get by with less this holiday season. A stumbling local economy, rising prices for everything from a dozen eggs to a gallon of gasoline and a meltdown in mortgage lending have all contributed to push more families over the edge into poverty.

“Times are tough. Jobs aren’t turning up,” said Reid, a single mother.

The boxes of food and hygiene products came courtesy of Calvary Baptist Church, which raised more than $7,000 to pay for a delivery from Feed the Children.

“It’s really easy to go about our daily lives and not realize that people are in need and are going without,” said Sean Haynes, who organized the giveaway. “This is something I knew we had to do.”

(more…)